Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 35 of a new online serial novel, Night Flower, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
“Oy, I’m so sorry, Chaiky!” Rachel looked mortified. “I spilled the hot cocoa all over everything. Should I bring a rag?”
“No rags now,” the man who seemed to be in charge of the search barked. The three others didn’t say a word, and it was impossible to know if they even spoke Hebrew in the first place. Chaiky wondered if they were agents who had come especially from Russia, or if they were just following orders from there. They entered the room; one went over to the computer and a second to the nearby cabinet.
“You, go out to the dining room,” the one in charge ordered Rachel. “And pray that I don’t decide that this hot cocoa is considered an obstruction to the investigation. Are you trying to create a diplomatic incident, or what?”
“I’m sorry again.” Rachel raised the empty cup. “I am more than twenty-five percent disabled. I didn’t do it on purpose.” And she walked out. Only Rabbi Pesserman remained at the door of the room.
Yehudis Pesserman and Chaiky moved to the dining room with the children, and settled on the couch. The bookcases seemed almost untouched. Only one cabinet was open, its contents strewn on the floor.
“Why are you standing, Rachel?” Chaiky asked as she rocked Yisrael Meir. “Sit.”
“I hope they can forget about the cocoa.” Rachel was still looking back toward the door of the room they had just emerged from. “That’s why when I cause things like this, I explain to people why it happens to me. Most of them are very understanding and kind, but these guys don’t look to be the understanding type.”
“But I hope that he didn’t mean that threat seriously; I don’t want them to be stricter with you because of me. Oy, they’re standing there in that puddle of cocoa, and then they’re going to track footprints all over the house.” She tried to stand on her tiptoes to see better into the room. “Hey, could they be taking the computer? Because they are doing something with it. No, they’re putting it back now, but I think they took out the hard drive.”
Rachel was right on the mark. One of the searchers came out and with one of Chaiky’s (fleishig!) kitchen towels, wiped the brown, sticky drops from the oblong black box. He put the box into a brown paper bag on the table in the dining room, closed it, and taped it with packing tape.
Five minutes later, the whole group was gone.
“We didn’t think about the computer, Yoel.”
Dovi and Naomi were already in bed, and Rachel was weaving one of her magical tales about flower gardens. Rabbi Pesserman and his wife had also left, but not before making sure everything was alright, and ensuring that Chaiky would not be ashamed to call them again at any time if necessary.
“And if you ask me,” she wound the phone cord around her finger, “I think that from the start, their target was the computer. They hardly touched anything else around the house; it looked like they were doing the whole search just as a formality. You think there could be anything problematic on the computer?”
“Did Shlomo use it a lot?”
“He hardly used it. I took care of his correspondence for him.”
“Then you know yourself what’s there.”
“Right. Nothing. And I just remembered something else: when I was asked to return the computer to the community center, I erased all my stuff and all the letters.” She smiled with relief. “Since the computer came back here, I haven’t turned it on even once.”
“Nu, so b’ezras Hashem everything will be fine.”
“But it’s very strange that they would come to someone’s house to search their computer, don’t you think? I would have been sure that in our day and age, you can get whatever computerized information you want without physically coming to take it.”
“True, but if they get into your computer illegally, then whatever they find will not be usable in court. Okay, I’m going to call Menachem now to update him and his father about the search. It would probably be a good idea for you to get to bed early.”
“Thanks for being concerned, Yoel.”
Riva Margulies was very refined, but she didn’t like long-winded speeches. Perhaps that combination was what made her such a good shadchante. “Look, Noa,” she said. “I read people easily, and you don’t strike me as someone who drags things out, or deliberates so long that they don’t know what’s happening to them. You seem like the kind of person who hears, accepts, and internalizes things, right?”
“You have a point there.” Noa’s smile was crooked. But Riva couldn’t see her, just like she couldn’t see the rocking chair she was sitting on, facing a large fireplace. Her grandfather was sitting on his wooden chair, a few feet behind her, writing copiously on yellow writing paper.
“Your friend didn’t look very ‘plugged in,’ but you do. So, do you want to hear more details about this suggestion?”
Noa stopped rocking. “I…need to think about it.”
“Think? Once you hear who I’m talking about, then you’ll have what to think about.”
“I need to think about if I want to get into the whole thing right now, or not.”
“Into what, shidduchim?”
“You’re already over eighteen, right?” Riva reminded her pleasantly.
Noa chuckled. “Right.”
“Riva, you said you read people well, right?”
“And you haven’t figured out yet that I don’t like pressure?”
“One-zero, Noa,” Riva said with a laugh. “When you want to hear about it, call me back, okay?”
“I’ll remember that,” Noa promised. She sat motionless for the next few minutes.
“Something’s come over you,” her grandfather said from behind. She turned her head.
“Yes,” she replied, gazing at the ivory desk on which he was working.
“Was that also a Jewish woman, or what?”
“I don’t know what you were talking about, but why don’t you just tell her no? Why do you have to sound so hesitant and evasive, as if you’re trying to wriggle your way out of something?”
“Again, it’s like the whole thing with the holiday, Grandfather,” Noa explained patiently. “It’s possible that they have a connection with my friends in Yokne’am, who don’t know the whole truth about me. I have to act like every other Jewish woman my age; otherwise it would be suspicious.”
“Should I ask again what you still have to look for in Yokne’am?”
“You can ask, and I can answer the same answer I gave you two days ago.”
“What, about coming full circle or something like that? I don’t accept that nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense.” Noa suddenly stood up from her chair. She didn’t even notice her voice rising. “It’s not nonsense! Grandfather, from the age of two and a half, since my mother died, I’ve been bounced around from place to place. In Russia, in Israel, by Yadovsky, in the boarding school for girls with no homes, at the high school in Tel Aviv. Three years here, two years there, five years in another place, and then three more years…”
“Some of those wanderings were because you wanted them, you know.”
“Sure, because I wasn’t happy at the other places where they stuck me!”
Nikolai Rosenberg’s two bodyguards shifted edgily in their places near the door. No one had ever screamed at their boss like that without getting a commensurate response.
The man was silent for a moment and then said, “So what are you trying to tell me? That you’ve decided to stay in that hole over there forever? Because it’s good for you there? You want to work in a silly community center under a fake name for…I don’t know how much you earn a month there?”
“No, I’m not going to stay there forever.” Noa’s voice went down several octaves. “I remember very well that I went there at your bidding to plant evidence between Struk’s husband and the illegal diamonds. I did that. True, I also wanted to leave documents in her house, but it didn’t work. Alright, but at least you should admit that I was great.”
“Of course! Without you, we wouldn’t have even known about Struk.” Rosenberg was attempting to sound warm.
“But I want you to understand that this entire time I wasn’t a robot, Grandfather. I’m not a machine that you insert money into and then it works!” Noa was standing near the ivory desk, her eyes fixed on the diamonds that were inlaid along its entire border. “I became friends with the director. She trusted me, Grandfather, and we really got friendly.”
“She trusted you—or she trusted the grant that she wanted to get?”
“I think she trusted me,” Noa said quietly. “Or at least she also trusted me.”
“But I, dear granddaughter, certainly do trust you, and I have faith in your talents.”
Andin the money you will get because of my help. “Well,” she said tersely.
“I can prove it to you.” He raised his voice. “Stashek! Please bring me file 706 from the cabinet in the room across the hall!”
A few long moments passed in silence. Rosenberg lit a pipe, while Noa stood with her hands behind her back, wondering what she was about to see. Was this the file with the documents that Stefana had referred to?
“And let’s say that you are friends,” Rosenberg suddenly said. “What is that going to make you do? Are you planning to tell her who you are and why you came to work for her?”
“No, I will say goodbye nicely and tell her that I have to leave. And then I’ll write a nice flowery letter that regretfully, they were not chosen to receive the grant. I don’t want her to remember me as a liar.”
He burst out laughing. “Baby,” he said, taking the file that Stashek handed him. “Are you trying to tell me that you care what some Jewish woman whom you’ll never see again thinks about you? Dismissed, Stashek.” He opened the file and pulled out some pages. “Look here,” he said to Noa. “All the photocopies of every report card you ever got, right here in my files. Yadovsky faxed them to me over the years. Report cards, certificates of merit, and even that letter full of praise that you got from a teacher when you were in boarding school. It’s all here, with a translation for me, of course.”
“So what are you trying to say?”
“That I foresaw greatness for you from when you were very young.” He puffed on his pipe and emitted a cloud of smoke. With a flourish, he handed her the file. “I was brought up with a culture of order and accuracy, and therefore everything is filed here. We didn’t miss a detail. You can go over it page by page.” Noa stuck out her hand to take it, but her grandfather suddenly pulled the file back to him. “The truth is that it makes no difference,” he said, and passed his veiny hand over his forehead. “Stashek, file 706 can go back to its place.”
“It will only be for about two weeks, and you’ll probably have a very nice time over those two weeks,” Rachel said morosely to Dovi and Naomi. She was standing next to the laundry lines on the porch and hanging towels, trying to match the clothespins to the colors of the towels. “You’ll be at your Zeidy and Bubby, together with your little uncles—”
“They’re not little at all,” Naomi objected. “They’re already ten! They’re even bigger than me, and for sure bigger than Dovi!”
“Okay, they’re not little,” Rachel agreed, rummaging around for a green clothespin for Yisrael Meir’s embroidered towel. “The main thing is that you’ll play there and have a good time. But I…” She took out a hand towel from the laundry basket.
“What about you?” Dovi asked. “Where will you go?”
“It makes no difference,” she replied. “I’ll manage.”
“And you’re not going to have a good time! I feel so bad for you, Rachel!” Naomi truly did feel bad. “Maybe you want to come with us to Zeidy and Bubby Struk like you came with us to Saba and Savta Brodsky? Even though Ima won’t be with us there, because she’ll be in Russia… Ima!” She suddenly raised her voice. “You will come back, right? Not like Abba!”
“B’ezras Hashem,” Chaiky replied from her perch near the suitcases in the dining room. “B’ezras Hashem I’ll be back very quickly. And I hope that Abba will also come home quickly, but it will take him a bit longer. I’m only going tomorrow to bring him all your letters, and then I’m coming back.”
“Is Rachel going to sleep in the street in the meantime?” Dovi was horrified.
“Of course not! I’ll be just fine.” Rachel hastened to banish the pitying expressions from their eyes. “Why should it be bad for me? I’m going to live where I lived for many years, before I came to your house.”
“And what if you miss us at night?” Naomi asked.
“Then I’ll tell myself the story about the glowing garden.” Rachel’s eyes sparkled as she lowered her voice. “And then all my longings will run very fast, all the way to you, and they’ll give you regards from me. Okay?”
“The glowing garden!” Naomi got up from the floor and handed Rachel a clothespin that had fallen. “You never finished telling us the story that you started before Pesach—remember? About the poor little tree that grew nothing. We got home just then and we had to eat and go to sleep, and you said you’d continue the story the next day, but you ended up telling us lots of other stories about the garden, and you never finished that one!”
“About the poor little tree?”
“Yes!” Dovi remembered suddenly. “You didn’t finish it!”
“Fine.” Rachel sat down with the empty laundry basket at the edge of the beach chair. “It will be our goodbye story. It’s very good for now, because it’s about night. And if you miss me, then you can always tell this story to yourselves, okay?”
“Okay,” Naomi and Dovi replied in unison.
“The tree had strong branches, and it even had pretty leaves. But no flowers ever grew on it. Each morning, the gardener went out to the garden, and each morning, he was disappointed again. All the trees around this one were bursting with beautiful flowers, in so many colors, and only this tree grew nothing. The gardener tried to think: was the tree lacking sun or shade? Did it need more water or air? But nothing worked. The tree felt very sad standing next to all its friends that were blossoming with such pretty flowers.”
“You told us this part already!” Dovi exclaimed. “You were in the middle of telling us about the night the gardener woke up because of the smell!”
“Right. He woke up one night because of a very special smell that wafted into his house through the window. He didn’t know where the smell was from and decided to go out to find it.”
“He took a flashlight!” Naomi cried.
“That’s right. And he went out to the garden and began to walk among all the trees and bushes…”
“In his pajamas?” Dovi giggled.
“Of course not. First he washed negel vasser and got dressed. Then he went out and walked along the path in his garden and saw how all the flowers were sleeping, with their petals closed. He didn’t understand—where was this smell coming from?”
“Probably from that poor little tree,” Dovi guessed.
“Why are you telling?!” Naomi grumbled. “Go on, Rachel.”
“The gardener walked with his flashlight, slowly, slowly, and he could tell that the smell was coming from the farthest corner of the garden. As Dovi guessed, it was where the little tree was growing. The gardener came closer, and the smell got stronger and stronger. It was a slightly familiar smell, and he tried to figure out what it was. Where did he know this smell from?”
Chaiky carried her slippers into the dining room, and put them in the smaller suitcase, smiling to herself. Rachel was a master storyteller. Just yesterday she had found herself choosing to clean a hardly used shelf in the dining room instead of washing dishes in the kitchen, so that she could hear the end of the story that Rachel had been telling the children.
“He came nearer and nearer to the tree, and took a deep breath to sniff the wonderful smell that filled the night air. And do you know what the smell was?” She lowered her voice to a near whisper. “It was the sweet smell of honey.”